Day 75 – Nuevo Progreso, Mexico

We were originally going to take a few days and drive our RV to South Padre Island (Brownsville) and park out on the beach, with a side trip to Mexico.  Time became a factor however, so when we learned a van full of people from Sea Breeze RV Park were doing a day trip, we decided to join them.  Mr. Ed was driving but only had room for one more in his van, so we took our car too and arranged to meet them all for lunch once we got there.

It’s about a 3-3.5 hour drive from Portland, TX to Nuevo Progreso, Mexico.  We were told not to go to Matamoros (on the other side from Brownsville) because it was too dangerous, but now we wonder if it really is, or was it just other people’s perception.  Consider the source we learned. (upon a Google search, Matamoros may indeed by unsafe and not recommended – but do your own research).

Crossing The Mexico Border

Border crossing into Mexico cost a quarter and there was no customs to go through really – a bit odd we thought.  Once you cross over, you’re hit with people trying to entice you to go to their pharmacy or dentist’s office.  Apparently those are the two main reasons Texans drive to Nuevo Progreso – to buy pills or get their teeth fixed at discount rates, a fraction the cost in the US.

dentist center
Dentists are plentiful here

Safe Food Does Not Come Cheap

The town isn’t much to see and our group usually eats at one of two “safe” places.  I had a margarita and held the table while Rob attempted to round up the rest of the group who had lost one person, then all scattered to go look for her.  The meal was okay, but I had to ask for hotter salsa and the two platters and two drinks we had cost us over $35US.  This is Mexico!   I was expecting maybe $10 for lunch including drinks.  We only brought about $180 cash with us (didn’t want to use credit cards for safety issues, and most it’s all street vendors anyway) so lunch took a big chunk of that.

taco stand

pinatas in mexico

mexican gate

chilitoz bar in mexico

Shopping In Mexico

I bought a dolphin pendant and earrings and when the next stall over had the same thing for less money, I went back and asked for at least $2 back or a full refund and I’ll buy it from the other guy.  He had told me that his father made all his items and he was the only one that would have one like it.  Yeah right!  Believe nothing you hear and shop around is my advice.  I also bought a belt, a gift for my sister’s birthday, and a cool tin mirror for our dining room at home.  Rob bought a hat and a lime squeezer (it had a similar price issue – $5 on the street, $2 IN the store).

rob in new hat
Rob's new hat

colors of mexico

mexican building

Remember I mentioned the group ate only at the “safe” places?   They only eat where they know for sure no one’s ever gotten sick, and they don’t stray off the main street or go further than the 3-4 blocks from the border where the vendors are all set up (it’s not safe either apparently).  Lastly they head out of town by about 4pm and most other visitors seem to follow suit as by 6pm the vendors were tearing down and the once packed and crowded streets were now empty.

music man
this guy was dancing and singing at the corner where you enter the country

garlic in mexico

This is what we saw when we went OFF the main street

Fresh Corn and Unpasteurized Honey

I was hungry so I bought a corn on the cob (with hot pepper sprinkled on it) from a street vendor cooking it on the corner.  Rob bought some honey that actually had bits of the honeycomb still in it – also from a street vendor.  Guess what – I ate the corn and it was delicious – AND I didn’t get sick or die!  The honey is also fab, BTW, no label, just honey.

mexican band
These guys were walking down the street and stopped off for a beer
mexican vendor
I bought my corn from a stand like this one

Rob Crosses Border 4 Times

So here’s where the story get interesting.  We were almost out of cash and wanted to stay and eat dinner so we walked back to the square by the border crossing, but the only ATM in town was not working (probably out of money).  We were told there is another one just on the other side, so Rob said he’d  walk over and back to get some cash.  I figured he’d be like 10 minutes.

outdoor bar in mexico
I sat here on the patio/park and waited for Rob to get cash
woman and child
Came around selling stuff while I waited
hammock for sale
Another walking vendor - I kinda wanted one of these though. Was tempted.

Coming up on 30 minutes I was thinking about how to do this if he wasn’t allowed to come back in again.  We hadn’t thought of that, we had no way to communicate (he had not phone with him) and the sun was setting fast.  I did not want to be sitting there by myself after dark with my large expensive (=target) camera and backpack, not to mention we still had to pick up the mirror 2.5 blocks back into town.

I was just formulating a plan in my head of how I could rush back and get the mirror, then somehow get it and the 20 lb backpack across the border by myself, when finally Rob reappeared.  He ended up driving a few miles back to a gas station to get money.  You’d think they’d want to make it a little easier to get and spend money in this place!

So at about 6pm we were going back into town while all the other visitors were streaming out.  We’d had chips and salsa at a little restaurant, called Ay Jalisco, earlier and wanted to go back there to eat dinner.  We picked up the mirror on the way in case the store closed too.

Ay Jalisco Restaurant in Nuevo Mexico

Ay Jalisco was great – all locals eating there now and a three man band played on the stage.  Dinner was less expensive than lunch and way more authentic Mexican food.  We’re in Mexico for crying out loud – should be the real thing everywhere.  I felt the other place we ate lunch at caters so much to the 70+ snow bird crowd that it is over Americanized for my tastes.  I prefer to eat there the locals do, where I can’t read the menu and just point at what the person next to you is having and say “quiero eso” meaning “I want that”.  Just avoid lettuce and anything washed with a skin on and you’ll be fine.  The travelers rule is:  boil it, peel it or leave it!

We left about 7:30pm or so and there wasn’t a single other Caucasian in sight by that time.  We walked the three blocks and crossed the border safely just fine – paying our quarter to get out again.  So our Nuevo Progreso experience was okay but I think knowing the sources now maybe next year we’ll see if the crime is down in Matamoros and take a chance there.  There more of a real town and not just one that sprang up to sell tourists dentistry and trinkets.

Travel Tips For Traveling in Third World Countries

I thought I’d write a little side bar of my own personal tips for traveling in foreign or third world countries.

  • by all means GO to these places!  do not be afraid of places different than your own country.  Even if the country you visit is very poor, or not developed – it does not mean it is unsafe.  All it means is that it’s different, that’s all.
  • in Mexico there are wonderful things to find and experience.  I personally love the Spanish language and am working on learning more of it so I can converse with people here and in South America when I return there also.  Make an effort to learn at least a few words before you travel to a foreign country.  Get a pocket dictionary or iPhone translator app, they will help immensely.   In many tourist areas people speak enough English to get by, especially in restaurants, etc.   But I find that any time you make an effort to speak their language the people will be much more willing to help you and often puts a smile on their face cause you’ve just murdered a word, but they truly appreciate the effort.  We learned about 6-8 Thai phrases when we went there and it always brought smiles, or laughter in some cases, to their faces.
  • experience the local food!  We often eat from street vendors or find places where the tourists DON’T go to eat.  We’ll ask a local for a recommended place to eat and we’re almost never disappointed.  Be cautious about street vendors and if it looks unclean or unsanitary, use common sense and don’t eat it.   If it has tap water in it or on it also use caution (see not below).   But if it looks and smells good, and seems sanitary – it probably tastes fantastic so go ahead and try it!
  • find local artisans and craftsmen:  Mexico is abundant with little shops and street stalls selling all kinds of wares.  Go further afield from the tourist areas and find a local market, you may be pleasantly surprised.  I found a great silversmith in this town and bought a couple things.  His prices were reasonable, and his quality was exceptional.  Much better than the junk you find for $1 in the busy areas.
  • don’t drink the tap water, always boil it or get bottled
  • that also means no ice or Popsicle unless you know it was from clean bottled water or bagged ice
  • avoid things washed in water like salad, and not cooked or peeled
  • don’t brush your teeth with tap water either, use a little bottled in a glass
  • avoid looking like a victim – walk with your eyes up and make eye contact with people
  • take off all or any flashy jewelry that will call attention to you and make you a target
  • carry your purse over one shoulder and under a jacket if you are wearing one
  • men put your wallet in your front pocket, it’s harder to pick that way
  • stay in a group or with someone if possible
  • use a money belt if you really want – I never have
  • be alert to your surroundings and what’s going on around you
  • be wary of people asking about you, your camera or belongings, where you’re from, where you’re staying, are you alone, etc.  Don’t give them any info and even if you are alone don’t ever say so. Say your friend is in the nearest shop and you have to go meet him/her and leave.  If you feel followed call police.
  • do go off the tourist path but follow the rules above and use common sense (no dark alleys)
  • do talk to the local people, they’re just foreign and likely poor – not criminals
  • do bargain with vendors but show compassion – the lady you bargain down for that “good deal” likely only makes a few cents on it.  So do you really need the extra couple bucks you saved more than she does?
  • carry small pocket change, there’s always desperate people asking for help
  • the kid asking for money is really cute but give him some change and watch 10 more just like him magically appear from mid air.

I’m sure that’s not all the travel tips for traveling in third world countries, but those are some of the rules I follow and I’ve never had any problems in any of the places I’ve visited including:  Peru, New York City, New Orleans (one of the most unsafe cities in the US), and Asia.

thank god for winter texansOur day trip to Nuevo Progresso Mexico was very low key. We had a couple of meals, one that we thought was overpriced but “safe” while the other was authentic Mexican and thoroughly enjoyed. Next time, we’ll go by ourselves, and to another town in Mexico. All in all, our border crossing into Mexico was a fun filled day.

Be safe and happy travels!

19 thoughts on “Day 75 – Nuevo Progreso, Mexico”

  1. Mexico just came alive under my very eyes reading this post.The pictures are so good you feel you can almost reach out and touch, say, the musicians that are going for a beer, or the street vendors !

  2. I sure wish you’d looked at my website before going to Progreso. You might have learned a few things to make the trip more fun, and less costly. Actually, there was no reason to fear in Progreso. The place is run by the business community and they know about the goose that lays the golden egg…you and me. They won’t let anyone accost a tourist and someone having a purse snatched or being mugged is something that hasn’t happened there in my six years of experience. The only violence they’ve seen was when a drug cartel made a wrong turn and came into town trying to escape Mexican army pursuing him. Result: two dead soldiers and a dead drug thug. This happened on 12/05/09 and lots of Winter Texans were in town that day. None of them were hurt.

    Glad you came and you took some good pix, although I don’t recognize the incredibly shabby Gorditas stand. You must have wandered far afield to find that. Come back sometime and I’ll show you better places to eat and shop.


  3. Hey Bill, thanks for the comment. I think if you read back through the post, you’ll see that we had no issues with the safety in Progreso Mexico, and in fact were making fun of our travel companions who were the ones worried.

    In the post, we joked that they ate at “safe restaurants” where we wanted to experience the authentic mexico.

    We always interact with locals in the countries we visit and Progreso was no different.

    We stayed late, ate supper with the locals at a local restaurant and felt just fine. We know that the vendors and members of the community understand why they must keep the area safe.

    Next time we go, we’ll look you up first.

  4. Darlene, comparto el gusto que ustedes tienen por conocer las cosas propias de los lugares que visitan. Es una forma muy divertida de viajar y es una oportunidad para vivir muchas experiencias nuevas.
    Estaba muy contento leyendo su historia hasta que encontré “Travel Tips For Traveling in Third World Countries”. Confío en sus buenas intenciones, pero esta parte de su artículo me parece discriminatoria. No se puede hablar del “tercer mundo” de esa forma tan general. Obviamente el tercer mundo tiene cosas buenas y cosas malas, así como ocurre en todo el mundo. Yo conozco USA y Europa, y estoy seguro que allí hay lugares muchísimo más desagradables y peligrosos que algunos del tercer mundo.
    Todos hacemos parte del mundo, así como cada célula hace parte de nuestro cuerpo y cumple una función.

  5. to translate Guillermo’s comment – I hope I do this right.

    Basically he says: Darlene, I share the taste that you must know the things in the places that you visit. It is a very funny form to travel and is an opportunity to live many new experiences. I was very contented reading this story until I found “Travel Tips For Traveling in Third World Countries”. I trust its good intentions, but this part of its article seems to me discriminatory. It is not possible to be spoken of the “Third World” in such general form. Obvious the Third World has good things and bad things, as well as it happens anywhere in the world. I know the USA and Europe, and I am certain there are more disagreeable and dangerous places there, more than some of the Third World. All we are part of the world, as well as each cell is part of our body and acts as such.

    Guillermo – first, thanks for your comment and help with my Spanish lessons. I made this list to help travelers from say Canada or the US that have never been outside their own country. My experience of many people going into Mexico was that they were afraid. I’ve been to Peru in the back country, and to Asia in little villages. I’ve seen rustic and I’ve seen really old time third world first hand. I was NEVER afraid in any of those places.

    But I travel in a manner that I try not to stand out. People that travel with lots of jewelry one, big rings, diamonds, etc – are just asking for trouble. And that’s not discriminatory in my opinion it’s reality. If someone is starving to death and they see an opportunity, and someone who clearly has a lot of abundance they may be tempted to take it. You’re right that is true anywhere there is poverty – like going into NYC to the Bronx or Harlem – don’t do it at night and don’t be a target. Same rules and tips apply there too.

    I love the Peruvian people and never did I feel they would rob me or did I feel unsafe. But there were areas of Lima that I did not go to and was warned not to go to for my own safety. Probably many Peruvians don’t go their either. Perhaps it’s high crime area, or known drugs, or whatever.

    Perhaps you come from a different perspective but someone going from Canada to say India – will have a BIG shock! The reality is you do need to prepare and act differently than you would at home.

    So I stand by my tips but thank you for your opinion.

  6. Primero que todo, es reconfortante encontrar personas como tú, con las que se puede tener diferencias en paz.
    Leí nuevamente “Travel Tips For Traveling in Third World Countries”. No dudo que tus intenciones son las mejores, incluso para que personas, p.e. de USA o Canadá, se animen a visitar Third World Countries.
    Estoy de acuerdo contigo con las recomendaciones que das, es más, yo sigo muchas de ellas.
    Después de la experiencia que tuve con tu escrito, hice el siguiente ejercicio: Si yo fuera a escribir algo que dijera “Travel Tips For Traveling in XXX”, cómo lo haría? Bien, escribiría algo muy similar a lo que tú escribiste, añadiendo al comienzo unos pocos renglones que hablen de las cosas positivas, interesantes o fascinantes que pueden encontrar en XXX, además mencionaría que para evitar ponerse en peligro es importante prestar atención a la lista de items.
    Quiero seguir aprendiendo a decir las cosas lo más amorosamente posible.

  7. Thanks Guillermo. I’m not going to translate this time, anyone wanting to read it can use babelfish LOL. I like your advice of putting something positive on why to visit this place at the beginning. In this article though, I think the article itself does that. I spend time explaining how all the other “Texans” left earlier and we stayed behind and ate with the locals where they eat and had a great time and met some nice people. So I didn’t feel I needed to say that on the list. If the list were a stand alone item, then yes I would do that. Thanks for your comments and continued help with my Spanish lessons.

  8. Darlene, I am really impressed with you. It´s not so easy to find reflective people able of accepting criticism.
    I agree that the article itself is positive, very positive. The issue is that you cannot be sure that readers are going to read it completely. In Internet most of people usually scan quickly the whole page and afterwards decide what to read.
    I think that the reading is absolutely different (much better) because of the changes that you made.
    I like it!

  9. Hi guys,
    We are starting out on our journey from Vancouver Island Canada to Central America and are presently in Az. Could you give us any info/recommendations on where to cross into Mexico? We have read so many different things and it would be great to here what your experience was.
    Geoff and deb

  10. Darlene,
    Thank you so much for posting your opinions and adventure. My husband currently lives in Veracruz, Mexico and I live in Arizona. We have been trying to find a way to have our family closer to each other, but my husband has never lived anywhere in Mexico, except for Veracruz.
    Recently, I found Nuevo Progreso on the map and I have been trying to do as much research as possible. I have a couple of questions that I hope you might be able to answer.
    1. Was the town primarly sandy?
    2. Would you say that the town looked extremely poor?
    3. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being great) how safe did you feel?
    4. Do you have a desire to go to Matamores because Nuevo Progreso seemed “unlively” or are you just curious to see a different part of Mexico?

  11. Mayra

    We only went there for the day, like noon to 7pm kinda thing. So we didn’t really see the whole place, we literally walked across the border. I’ll try and answer your questions:

    1 – no, not even remotely close to the coast. When you say sandy, do you mean beach? No.

    2 – yes, quite poor

    3 – 9, we left long after all the other Texans and snowbirds, but we’re also in our 40s not in our 70s. Our fellow RVers seems to think it wasn’t safe after dark, but we stayed and ate dinner and was just fine. Having said that though, my husband is 6’2″, brown belt in Tai Kwan Do, and over 270 lbs. So being with him I tend to feel safe most times.

    4 – I wanted to go to Matamores because Nuevo Progreso seemed that it’s only purpose was to sell tourists some crappy stuff on the street, or dentistry, or pharmaceuticals. It’s not much of a town really.

    Would I live there? Not likely, no.

  12. Darlene,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to respond back to me. BTW, your photographs are beautiful.

  13. hi…I will be going to Neuvo Progresso for a day trip this month and was wondering if you could tell me the name/location of the silversmith you mentioned

  14. It’s been a long time Terry. Hard to say for sure now. It would have been on the main street though, we didn’t do much shopping off of it. We wandered around, off the main street, but didn’t do much shopping there.

  15. Looks like you’ve learned a lot in your travels in Mexico. I’m glad you sent this to me. Still safe there and we’ve had a major downturn in traffic over the last two years. Still no problems!
    The soldiers are no longer in town, although they might pass through the neighborhoods a couple of times each week.
    Still no foreigner has been harmed. You might enjoy this video.

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